Electronic animal identification (EAI) is not exactly new in pig farming. People have been speaking about the benefits of EAI- such as chances for innovation and economical profit - for over 10 years now. Still, the massive implementation of EAI in the sector you would therefor expect has not yet taken place.
The return on investment of EAI on (nucleus) breeding farms is obvious, because registration of birth weight and genetic abnormalities already needs to be recorded on those farms. With the cutback on labour by EAI towards filling in paper forms, the investment in electronic ear tags and additional equipment (reader) can be justified.
But what’s the return on investment for the everyday pig farmer that starts applying electronic eartags? Within the project “Digitalization”, initiated by LTO and NVV and currently running at VIC Sterksel and several practical pig farmers, we try to find the answer to that question and remove possible bumps for entrepreneurs starting with EAI. It’s done on the one hand by comparative research, on the other hand by supporting innovative ideas of companies that help improving the labour efficacy on pig farms.
Ear tag test
If an agricultural entrepreneur wants to start with EAI, its utmost important that the chosen ear tag stays in the pigs ear – ideally from birth up unto slaughter house – so that specific information can be linked to the animals for their entire life. Therefor a large ear tag test has found place at VIC Sterksel in 2014, in which 12 types of ear tags from 5 different suppliers were compared on physical and functional loss and inflammatory reactions. This research is almost completed, results will be published by the end of this year.
Possible obstacles farmers can bump into while starting with EAI is the existing reading equipment on the farm. Will the used ear tags be recognized by the present feeding – or selection station? And is the animal identification of the system placed on the left or right. In other words: in which ear should the ear tag be applied? Many different types of ear tags have been tested on the different present feeding stations at VIC Sterksel in the beginning of 2014, with quite varying results. For a large application of EAI in the pig sector it would be good if the different suppliers of such stations would unify their reading equipment.
Testing on user experiences
VIC Sterksel has recently made the step to electronic animal identification for all new born piglets. While doing so, we came across some matters that could work easier or faster, also here at the experimental farm. Innovative companies receive space for development within the project “Digitalization”, by testing smart reading equipment for EAI on user experiences. Sometimes by the staff of VIC Sterksel, sometimes by practical pig farmers. This way we tested a smart scale for the weighing of piglets, and also a system which connects individual slaughter data to the information of the animal on the farm such as birth weight. After such a test for user experiences the supplying companies can optimize their product to a practice-proof plug & play tool. The additional time caused by registration can be decreased by the smart combining of actions, while the quality of the information increases.
Results of EAI
And then, if everything works: how are you going to turn the enormous database of information such as birth weight into value on the pig farm? First, the running software should be designed in such way that points for improvement in the farm management are easily pointed out. Because registration of animal data is one thing, but turning it into optimisation of the management and therefore better profits requires a whole lot more. Consultants of the farmer such as representatives of the feed supplier, veterinarian or breeding organisation can participate in the translating of data on the farm into practical advises for the farmer. At the same time, we are exploring the possibilities in slaughter houses for automatic feedback of slaughter data to the farm.
Except for the primary farm, it is important for us to oversee the big picture and look to the entire pig sector. For each link in the production chain EAI costs money at first, while over the entire chain EAI would easily show its profit. To provide this, the entire pork chain should work together on this matter. This way EAI would help in the warranting of meat concepts and add value to the pork. Therefor in the Digitalization project, also these bigger trends are being explored.